"Fair Use For Educational or Discussion Purposes"
One of a preacher's challenges is to explain how it is possible that mean people can profess to be saved—on their way to Heaven when they die. I mean...aren't they mutually exclusive—salvation in Christ and a mean disposition?
I recall riding through Fayetteville one day years ago when I saw a bumper sticker that read, “Honk if you love Jesus!” Now...I don't usually obey bumper stickers, but on a whim, as I was about to pass, I honked my horn. Moments later as I made eye contact, the very agitated driver extended an insulting digit my way; he did not seem to be pointing toward Heaven.
Over the years I've played church-league softball on our church team. Not very often, but occasionally, we'll come across a team with a player or two who exhibit a very mean-spirited demeanor on the playing field. What's up with that? Ain't they got Jesus?
Well, here's the deal on mean Christians. Some would simply dismiss their relationship with Jesus Christ and confidently proclaim that a person who acts like that simply cannot really be saved. That suggests that truly saved people never display bad conduct. They wonder how a person with a relationship with God can have such a lapse of good character.
When one receives Jesus Christ as Savior, he becomes a new creation in Jesus Christ according to II Corinthians 5:17. That process literally involves the Holy Spirit of God becoming part of the new Christian; he indwells believers. When that happens, we are justified in expecting to see some fruit of that experience. After all, Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” There ya go...the natural outpouring of the Holy Spirit...what you see in a person who is controlled by the Holy Spirit.
So, here's the real question: How do you explain the absence of the traits of the Holy Spirit in a person who professes to be a Christian. Where's the new creation? Short answer: All Christians are not necessarily controlled by the Holy Spirit all the time...some, none of the time.
Let me explain it like this. Salvation is a family relationship made possible through an unconditional covenant with God. Jesus described it in John 3 as a “born again” process. Peter said in I Peter 1:23, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” When one receives Jesus Christ as Savior, he is actually receiving the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit in his life as he becomes a permanent part of God's family through this spiritual birth.
Now understand this: I didn't always please my father when I was a child, but he always loved and protected me just the same; he never forsook me—punished me...of course, but never forsook me. Likewise, God never forsakes the Christian as some would have you believe. Just like a loving father, God may need to work some chastisement in a disobedient Christians life, but he never abandons him.
That being said, let's put it all together. All Christians have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit at the time of their salvation, but they are not necessarily full of the Holy Spirit. When a Christian is FULL of the Holy Spirit, he'll be controlled by the same, and the traits of Galatians 5:22-23 will be evident in his life. While the indwelling of the Holy Spirit comes at salvation, the fulness, and thus control, of the Holy Spirit comes as we feed ourselves spiritually through prayer, digesting God's Word, fellowship with other believers and ministering. Those are the components of spiritual nourishment.
Now, back to our analogy. Don't you find that the physically immature struggle with even basic motor and mental functions? I mean...it takes a newborn a year or so to even learn to walk. And by the time they are four years old, many are still self-centered little bundles of mischief. However, no one ever suggests abandoning that child—discipline, yes, but not abandonment. With proper training, that child grows into a productive, pleasant-to-be-around adult.
Likewise, all Christians are not pleasant all the time. They are when the Holy Spirit is in control, but when spiritual nourishment has been neglected, that Christian might even come across to others as...well...even mean. God's working on that, just as a parent would with the unruly child. In the process, expressing displeasure with that conduct is appropriate, but making an assumption that the person simply must not really be saved is not appropriate. God knows the problem...and he's on it. Let's just let God make the call.
I've written some articles on this issue that are posted on my website. Just go to and read the first four articles listed in the pink box in the middle of your screen for additional insight.
Pastor Wayne Turner of Fayette Bible Church in Fayetteville is also the author of Bible Track, an online daily Bible-reading schedule and commentary which may be accessed at http://www.bibletrack.org.